Heat-free Technology for Flexible Electronics

heat free technology

Martin Thuo and his team from the Iowa State University have developed a new heat-free technology for flexible electronics. It can be manufactured without damaging the base material and is also suitable for paper.

Researchers from the Iowa State University and the Ames Laboratory have developed an innovative heat-free technology for flexible electronics. The team already used the new tech very successfully for objects such as a curled sheet of paper with a flexible LED display and gelatine cylinder with printed metal tracs at the top.

Many Application Fields for this Technology

The team of Martin Thuo, assistant professor of materials science and engineering at Iowa State, an associate of the U.S. Department of Energy‘s Ames Laboratory and a co-founder of the Ames startup SAFI-Tech Inc., created an undercooled metal technology that features a special liquid metal. The alloy of bismuth, indium and tin is trapped below its melting point in oxide shells and is able to create particles of 10 millionths of a meter across.

When the shells break, for example through physical pressure or chemical dissolving, the liquid alloy flows and solidifies, becoming a heat-free weld, printing conductive, or metallic lines and traces. The heat-free weld is suitable on nearly all kinds of materials from a simple leaf to a concrete wall.

The possibilities of the technology have a wide range of application, as well. From included sensors to measure structural integrity of buildings or the growth of crops, to paper-based remote controls, electrical contacts for solar cells and screen-printing conductive lines on gelatine, there are many working fields for this technology.

From Classroom to Laboratory

The project, supported by university start-up funds, was launched three years ago, as part of a teaching exercise.

I started this with undergraduate students,” Thuo said. “I thought it would be fun to get students to make something like this. It’s a really beneficial teaching tool because you don’t need to solve 2 million equations to do sophisticated science.”

As the project proceeded and the students had learned to use metal-processing tools, they discovered ways of dealing with metal and started to solve some of the challenges of flexible, metal electronics. And so, they learned together how to effectively bond metal traces to nearly every material and created a method to fabric a multitude of conductive products without damaging the base material.

What other teaching exercise come up to your mind when aiming to introduce printing technologies to young talents?